Turmeric is a member of the ginger family which is native to India and other South Asian countries. It grows best in wet, tropical climates and is cultivated for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
The most used part of the plant is the rhizome, or the part of the stem which remains underground as the plant grows.
The powdered turmeric spice you find in markets and on supermarket shelves is ground from the boiled and dried rhizome.
It is famous for its deep yellow color, which is often used as a colorant in condiments such as mustard.
The powder has long enjoyed popularity as a spice in the curries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, thanks to the bitter and peppery taste of its most prominent active ingredient, curcumin.
Turmeric has been used for centuries in traditional Indian medicine as a treatment for indigestion, liver problems and for skin and flesh wounds.
There is a body of research which shows that turmeric does indeed have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Further research is underway to investigate the effect of the plant’s traditional role in the treatment of kidney diseases, cardiovascular ailments, gastrointestinal problems, diabetes and cancer.
The plant’s component compounds are known as curcuminoids, and are comprised of curcumin – as we have already seen – along with demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin.
The amount of each compound varies between different plant variations, however, curcumin is the active ingredient and is the compound which has been researched the most.
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Benefits Of Curcumin For Health & Hair
Curcumin is not uniquely found in turmeric, but can be found in a variety of plants. As a chemical compound it is more properly named diferuloylmethane and is marketed and sold independently of turmeric as a food colorant, flavoring, medicinal supplement and cosmetic agent.
Its chemical classification came long after it had first been used in medicine, and its popular name is derived from the Latin name of the turmeric plant, Curcuma longa. You may also see it on food labels as an additive: E100.
Curcumin is not essential for the growth and survival of turmeric, rather it is a natural phenol which defends the plant against herbivores, a feature it shares with other secondary metabolites, which are often used in medicine or as food additives.
There is ongoing research into phenolic compounds in general and their role in the treatment of human diseases.
Curcumin’s applications in medicine are still limited to traditional forms, despite having undergone laboratory research in numerous studies.
Part of this body of research has shown that the compound can be safely administered to humans over a three-month period in daily doses of up to 12mg.
The Relationship Between Turmeric, Curcumin and Treatment for Hair Loss
Part of the laboratory research into curcumin suggest that it may help combat hair loss in a number of ways.
This research, coupled with the fact that it has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years, has led to a surge in marketing of the plant and its compounds, along with widespread online discussion of its benefits relating to the treatment of hair loss, and a huge increase in sales, particularly in North America.
It is typically claimed that eating turmeric as part of your diet, or drinking it in solution as a supplement will, over time, give a boost to your body’s overall health, and reinforce your immune system in order to stimulate hair growth to continue without the complications that can arise from autoimmune conditions such as androgenic alopecia.
Does it Actually Work? What Does the Science Say?
Studies carried out in laboratory conditions show that extracts of turmeric show properties in common with synthetic drugs which are used in the treatment of androgenic alopecia, specifically finasteride.
One of the ways that finasteride works is due to the fact that it is a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, which means it reduces the body’s ability to convert testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) via the enzyme 5-alpha reductase (5-AR).
This is important, because 5-AR has been shown to be a main cause of many ailments including prostate cancer and, of course, androgenic hair loss.
This hair loss occurs as a result of the damage caused by 5-AR to hair follicles, eventually shutting them down and killing them.
Tumeric Vs. Finasteride As A DHT Blocker
Like finasteride, turmeric extracts have also been shown inhibit the 5-AR enzyme, meaning that they should also play a similar role in reducing hair loss.
This property is believed to belong to the curcumin compound found in the turmeric extracts.
The extent of curcumin’s ability to inhibit the 5-AR enzyme has been shown with a great disparity in results between different studies.
It has been shown to have a lesser effect on the production of DHT than finasteride, yet in other tests it has been shown to be up to 13 times more effective than the synthetic drug.
As we have seen, clinical tests have shown that administering daily amounts of curcumin over a period of three months indicate no toxicity, unlike finasteride, which has shown to cause adverse effects, including erectile dysfunction and infertility.
In addition to the enzyme-inhibiting properties that curcumin displays on its own, it has also been shown that it can be combined effectively with minoxidil – the vasodilatory active ingredient in topical and foam treatments for hair loss such as Rogaine.
These studies involved a relative of turmeric – Curcuma aeruginosa, and showed a significant enhancement in the performance of the synthetic drug in restoring hair growth in male sufferers of androgenic alopecia.
The Amazing Antioxidant & Anti-inflammatory Properties Of Tumeric May Help
Another way in which curcumin probably has a positive effect in reducing hair loss and encouraging growth is due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which help the body to heal and recover more easily from conditions which may negatively affect hair follicles and the scalp.
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Underlying conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis may be responsible for hair loss in some cases, and curcumin can help to resolve this. It is also thought that curcumin plays a role in counteracting some of the root causes of conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis – namely HIV, Parkinson’s disease and stress.
Curcumin Can Help Activate The Vitamin D Receptor
A further way in which curcumin can promote hair growth is due to the fact that it has been shown to be an activator of Vitamin D receptor genes in hair follicles.
These genes help to control the growth cycles of hair. Tests have shown that mice and humans who lack these genes develop hair loss.
This is due to proteins which are produced by Vitamin D receptors which enable the follicles to grow hair uninhibited.
Sources of Turmeric and Curcumin
The only major dietary source of curcumin is turmeric. On average, turmeric extracts are made up of around 3-4% of curcumin, although, as we have seen, this can vary.
Another spice called shoti (zedoary root) also contains curcumin, and is popularly used in Indian pickles.
Turmeric is an essential ingredient in many Indian dishes, and is used to enhance and balance the other flavors in lentil, meat and vegetable dishes.
Turmeric was spread from India to Indonesia by early merchants and missionaries. In Indonesian cuisine, the plant is commonly used in vegetable, meat and fish dishes, along with red and yellow curries and yellow rice.
It is also often found in the dishes of Malaysia and southern Thailand, especially in curry pastes, fish dishes, soups, sauces and even with grilled fruit such as bananas and coconut.
In the West, turmeric is often used for its strong, deep-yellow coloring, which lends itself well to mustard and other sauces.
It has slowly become a more widely-used ingredient and is now found in cheeses, sausages, yogurts, pickles and sauces, including Worcestershire sauce.
In Japan, turmeric is the main ingredient in a popular drink, known as Ukon, which is marketed as having numerous medicinal properties and is popularly drunk by men and women across the country. Similar drinks contain various vitamins and are used as hangover cures.
Although turmeric occurs naturally and is used in a wide range of recipes, many people find that the best way to guarantee their daily dose of curcumin is through using supplements.
There is, however, currently no consensus on what the best way to take a supplement would be, nor on how much should be taken in order to see any benefits.
It is likely that the appropriate dosage would vary from one individual to another.
How To Make Curcumin Bioabsorbable
There are doctors who prescribe 500mg of curcumin in capsule form daily to their patients without being able to back up the prescription with research to show its efficacy.
That is the equivalent of a teaspoon and more of ground turmeric, and the effects may well be the same when both are swallowed.
This is because the body struggles to absorb curcumin on its own. There is no point in swallowing it with water, as it is not water-soluble, and would simply pass through the body without having any significant effect.
Mixing curcumin with fat, however, has the opposite effect – the body is able to fully absorb all of the curcumin which would otherwise have slipped by. This suggests that a food-based intake of turmeric would trump the benefits of almost all supplements.
There are, however, commercially-available supplements out there which are showing themselves to be effective, such as Meriva, and another called Longvida – developed partly by UCLA.
Despite this, UCLA’s professor emeritus of medicine, Dr. David Heber, stresses that there are other factors which eclipse turmeric in importance when it comes to dealing with inflammation and general health:
Controlling your levels of abdominal fat and how much you exercise are more likely to produce positive results in that area, than smothering your food with turmeric.
Nonetheless, adding turmeric to meals or taking it as a supplement will likely have demonstrable health benefits.
Another way to increase the bio-availability of turmeric is to take it with peperin which can drastically increase the amount that gets into the bloodstream.
Tumeric Boosting Beverage Recipes
This is the smoothie recipe that I recommend using if you want to boost your levels of turmeric and curcumin quickly and effectively.
The numeric and ginger milk elixir will give you a massive boost of turmeric and curcumin. The antiinflammatory effects of the drink are awesome. You’ll also readily detox your liver with this amazing mixture.
- One cup of coconut or almond milk
- A medium sized piece of tumeric
- A medium sized piece of ginger
- A spoonful of raw manuka honey
- A pinch of black pepper (to enhance bioavailability)
- A small teaspoon of coconut oil
Heat the half of the coconut or almond milk up in a pan, the other half goes in a blender. Into the blender also go the turmeric, ginger, pepper and coconut oil.
Blend until smooth. Remove the other half of the milk from the heating pan and add to the blender when it’s nice and warm. Blend again for a few seconds and you’re ready to drink.
There is little doubt that turmeric, especially its active compound, curcumin, have tangible health benefits for humans.
For sufferers of hair loss, it is especially interesting due to its nature as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, meaning it has the same effect on alopecia as the synthetic drug finasteride, yet it isn’t associated with the negative side effects of that drug.
How you decide to take turmeric is up to you – as we have seen, there is currently no consensus on what is the best way or the right dosage.
You can, however, be confident that there is little chance of taking too much.